With all the talk about streaming and downloading, you can sometimes forget that what started this whole home theater revolution was the “physical disc.” DVDs have been with us for nearly 20 years now and Blu-rays have been around more than 10 years. This means that your movie-loving clients likely have a fairly large library of physical media lying around that could use some professional management.
The DVD/Blu-ray movie server isn’t a new category by any means. It has, however, traditionally been expensive, making it unobtainable for many owners. And while Fusion Research’s PRM-2 Premiere Movie Server isn’t “cheap,” its sub- $3,000 retail price makes it far more affordable, while still delivering significant performance, integration, and expansion capabilities.
Fusion Research’s PRM-2 Premiere Movie Server
I was surprised to learn that Fusion Research just celebrated 10 years of making movie servers, which is a milestone in the category. And during that time the company has built its movie-management software from the ground up, making for a robust experience that can support the custom channel. The Premiere is part of the company’s new EPIC platform and builds on many technologies the company has developed over the past decade, while bringing the price to a lower level. There are two servers in the Premiere line, the PRM-2 (reviewed here) and the PRM-4. The -2 comes with 2TB of internal storage, enabling storage of approximately 300 DVDs/50 Blu-rays, as well as support for an additional Zone Player to enjoy two movies simultaneously. The -4 is $1,000 more, features a 4TB drive, and supports four additional Zone Players.
Fusion has taken a unique approach to letting customers add additional storage. Instead of selling expensive, proprietary drives, Premiere can use any high-quality NAS to expand storage infinitely. Fusion sells additional storage licenses that can be added to a system at any time in 5TB, 10TB, or unlimited capacity levels, allowing you to scale the system as your client’s collection grows.
Importing a commercial DVD or Blu-ray requires breaking the disc’s copy protection, which is still a slippery legal slope. In the installation manual you’ll find, “Fusion fully respects the rights of IP and media copyright holders. Fusion does not condone illegal copying or distribution of any copyrighted materials. No Fusion product ships with decryption software that may be used to violate copyright laws.”
For Premiere to import any commercially encrypted discs, a license for AnyDVD HD needs to be purchased and installed. (A lifetime license currently sells for 109 Euros, or about $118.) Once the license is purchased, the registration key is installed to the system via a USB drive, the AnyDVD HD utility installs, and the system is now good to go. The system periodically checks for any updates to AnyDVD and then prompts for an automatic download. (My review system arrived with AnyDVD HD already installed.)
The Premiere installs pretty much like any modern Blu-ray player, with an HDMI output carrying audio and video signals, an ethernet connection to the local network, and power. There are also coaxial digital and analog audio outputs, but only one audio output is active at a time, meaning that you’ll have to decide on either surround or two-channel when using a housewide distribution system. You can also add another player ($1,495 MSRP) if needing two separate audio settings at the same time.
The unit ships with an infrared remote and receiver that connects to one of the rear panel USB connections. This remote is handy for initial setup– configuring the onscreen display, setting static IP, etc.–but most integrators will favor one of the many integration partners that Fusion supports.
The first step is importing your discs into the Premiere, and the Premiere’s drive is the simplest method for this. After inserting a disc, the player automatically queries Fusion’s database to identify the disc, after which you can either play or import the disc. (Doing nothing causes the player to automatically begin importing after about 30 seconds.) I fed it a variety of brand-new Blurays, and the system correctly identified and imported each disc without issue. The system is quite speedy on imports, taking about 25 minutes for a DVD and 35 for a Blu-ray, and you can view a previously imported movie while a new disc is importing.
Fusion also offers an import utility that can allow you to import files across the network. The system supports a variety of video file types, including .iso, .udf, .mkv, .mp4, .avi, .wmv, .mpeg, .divx, .mov, and .hdmov. There’s also a handy metadata manager for making tweaks or changes. For example, I found a few titles with incorrect aspect ratios that I could fix. I also created an “Atmos” category that let me easily sort all appropriately encoded titles. You could also create collections to simplify browsing.
Browsing your collection is done via a slick on-screen interface that shows high-resolution cover art for each film. You can select how many films are displayed on screen at once, either 24, 70, 133, or 225 titles. However, beyond 70 started looking like postage stamps on my 65-inch screen.
As collections get larger, finding what you’re looking for becomes increasingly difficult, but the Premiere gives several convenient options for sorting and finding titles. First, you can narrow things down by looking at just DVDs or Blu-rays. You can also browse by genre, participant (actor or director), or search by keyword. The movie collection can be sorted by date the film was released, date it was imported, date it was last played, running time, or rating. The system even provides parental controls to limit what ratings are displayed.
After selecting a movie, pertinent information is displayed, such as cast, director, running time, rating, and synopsis. If you previously started but didn’t finish a movie, you can resume from where you left off. Owners with an additional Zone Player can start a movie in one room and finish it in another. Selecting “Play Movie” jumps you straight to the beginning of the film past all menus, trailers, and warnings, and both DVDs and Blu-ray titles start in about 10 seconds. Occasionally the system incorrectly bookmarked a title or started playing the wrong version. For example, playing Zootopia brought up the French version of the film. Fortunately, this is easily corrected, and you can manually set the film’s new/correct starting location.
The Premiere also supports a very cool feature for TV series, letting you bookmark the beginning of each episode. I imported season one of Game of Thrones, and the system automatically tagged each episode and then let me set the start point, a process that took about 20 seconds per episode. Also, since I could set the beginning, I opted to jump past the 1:45 intro of every episode, starting at the actual beginning.
Audio and video quality was mostly terrific. I never noticed any issues when watching Blu-ray titles, with the Premiere producing every pixel of detail I’ve come to expect. It also perfectly passed the Dolby Atmos bitstream to my Marantz preamp for decoding. (I didn’t have any DTS:X Blu-ray discs, but am confident it will play these with no issues.) DVD picture quality was a step behind the best standalone players I’ve tested, with the picture just a tad softer and lacking a bit of detail, and showing some occasional scaling artifacts on video-based source material.
My one issue with Premiere is how it handles Blu-ray discs, not offering a way to just “play the disc” or access the disc’s menu structure. The system automatically looks for the largest file–typically the feature film–but someone wanting to view supplementary material, or enjoy in-film content.
It’s only natural to compare the Premiere to Kaleidescape, the company that invented the movie server category. While Kaleidescape offers some additional and unique features, it’s important to note that Kaleidescape no longer offers a system that will import DVD or Blu-ray discs. Further, the typical Kaleidescape system that supported Blu-ray importing and playback cost about three to four times the price of the Premiere.
For customers wanting to affordably manage a collection of discs of virtually any size, the Premiere is a terrific option that demands your consideration.
Slick interface, rapid imports, great control integration, upgradeable storage
Blu-ray disc features
► 2 Terabyte hard disk stores approximately 300 DVD/50 Blu-ray discs
► Easily add additional storage to hold movie collection of any size
► Dolby Atmos/DTS:X audio support
► Supports second zone by adding Fusion Zone Player
► IP driver integration support for Control4, Crestron, Elan, RTI, Savant, URC, Vantage
► Connections: 1 HDMI audio/video, coaxial digital audio, 1/8-inch analog audio, (4) USB, gigabit RJ45 ethernet, 12- volt DC power. (Additional connections on rear panel such as keyboard and VGA are inactive.)